What is the HELLP syndrome?
In this article, we will share an experience from the September Baby community by Victorian mum Macca to help us raise awareness of HELLP syndrome.
You may have heard of preeclampsia, an unpredictable pregnancy complication which typically develops in the later stages of pregnancy. It is characterised by high blood pressure and causes damage to other organs such as the liver and kidneys. But have you heard about HELLP syndrome? HELLP syndrome is a more severe form of preeclampsia and can lead to substantial damage to the mother's internal organs and the health of her blood.
While preeclampsia occurs in 5-10% of pregnancies in Australia, HELLP syndrome only occurs in roughly 0.5% of pregnancies but with a 25% mortality rate, it's a very rare but very dangerous condition. HELLP — standing for hemolysis (the destruction of red blood cells), elevated liver enzymes (liver not functioning properly) and low platelet count (making it harder for blood to clot) — can rapidly become life-threatening for both you and your baby.
Macca's experience with HELLP syndrome
As with most cases of preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome, Macca didn't experience any symptoms until just two weeks before her due date. With significant pain at the top of her tummy, she thought she was going into labour early and headed to hospital. At the hospital, however, it was quickly determined she wasn't experience contractions at all, instead they noticed Macca had high blood pressure. Macca was sent to La Trobe Regional Hospital for further tests and while she and her partner Chris didn't fully grasp what was going on, they both had a feeling they would have to meet their baby sooner than expected.
"We were told I had HELLP syndrome, the worst preeclampsia you can get, and I could be induced but there was a risk to Hunter and I so they suggested an emergency c-section and wanted me in theatre straight away. That’s all they told me. They wanted the baby out. I was pretty calm because I was all for the safest option for the both of us."
Delivering the baby is the only cure for HELLP syndrome, no matter how long of the pregnancy you still have to go. Luckily, Macca was only a few weeks away from her due date but after Hunter was born, he still had to be put in the nursery to stabilise and Macca herself had to spend two days in the ICU with magnesium infusions and IV drips.
Raising awareness of HELLP syndrome
Most women who develop the HELLP syndrome say they hadn't heard of the condition before it happened to them and there isn't much awareness out there of this severe pregnancy complication. Macca didn't experience any symptoms during her pregnancy and had even had an ultrasound a few days before she had to go to the hospital showing that everything was fine. After the whole ordeal was over, she found out that the pain she experienced that night was her gallbladder acting up and without those symptoms, she wouldn't have known how far the syndrome had already developed. "My veins could have collapsed and I could have had a stroke if they didn’t get to it in time. It can come on quick.", she says.
It's hard to know what symptoms to look for if you've never even heard of HELLP syndrome. Indigestion, nausea and vomiting, pain, fatigue, headaches and blurred vision can all be signs of HELLP syndrome or pre-eclampsia. Due to these somewhat vague symptoms, HELLP syndrome may sometimes be mistaken for flu or gallbladder issues so it's important that you listen to your body and what it's telling you.
Have you or someone you know developed HELLP syndrome? Share your experience in the comments below and help us raise awareness of this dangerous condition.
You can follow Megan on Instagram @septemberbabystore